Apple Laptops explained

Apple Laptops explained

The first thing to decide is which of the main device types to go for – you can then start looking at the different configurations.

Here we’ve rounded up everything from the MacBook Air to the 16-inch MacBook Pro, to help you work out what each model offers, how much they cost, how they can be configured plus what their pros and cons are.

All new MacBooks now include Apple’s new-style Magic Keyboard. And all all MacBooks use USB-C ports. You’ll need adapters to transfer images from an SD card for example, as well as connect to USB-A devices. Macs are all in the process of transitioning to new Apple-designed processors instead of using Intel chips. You can read more about this in our dedicated feature.

All Apple apps are optimised for the new processors but if you use specialised apps in any way you need to check out if they’ll run OK on the new hardware before taking the leap. The MacBook Air (and Mac Mini) have now fully transitioned to the new hardware, with the 13-inch MacBook Pro available in both Intel and Apple Silicon versions. 

Read on to find out which Apple MacBook is the one for you.

Quick summary

The MacBook Air is the cheapest MacBook available overall, and the lightest option. It also offers the longest battery life, Touch ID and a Retina Display with True Tone technology. After a full refresh, it was updated in 2019 and then again in March 2020 before it moved across to Apple M1 processors in November 2020. 

The MacBook Pro 13-inch was updated in May 2020 with new Intel processors and the Magic Keyboard and then it also moved across to Apple M1 processors in November 2020, though the Intel version is still available. The only real difference between the 13-inch Pro and the MacBook Air is the fan which enables sustained loads over a longer period. It also has the Touch Bar as well. 

The Macbook Pro 16-inch is the king of the MacBooks with the best power and largest storage options, biggest screen and the Touch Bar and Touch ID features. It is also the most expensive, however, and this probably isn’t the MacBook you’ll want if you’re constantly on the move. It’s still only available with Intel processors. 

Apple MacBook Air (late 2020, M1 processor)

  • Dimensions: 304.1 x 212.4 x 41-156mm, 1.25kg
  • Display: 13.3-inches, 2560 x 1600 (227ppi), 400nits brightness, True Tone
  • Connections: Two USB Type-C ports, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Battery: 12 hours

The MacBook Air got a full design update in October 2018. There was then a small update in July 2019 and a more significant refresh in March 2020 before the MacBook Air lineup was moved entirely across to Apple processors in November 2020.

All models retain the iconic wedge shape. It’s now thinner and lighter than it used to be and it features Touch ID, a Retina Display and True Tone technology. The 2020 versions have the same refreshed keyboard as the MacBook Pro.

There are now two versions of the Air, both with the same Apple M1 processor. The base model features 7-core graphics with the more expensive model having 8-core graphics. Performance is excellent and is very similar between the models which have 256GB and 512GB of storage respectively. RAM starts at 8GB and maxxes out at 16GB – the limit for Apple Silicon currently. 

The cheaper model still retains its sub $/£1,000 price point and once again it’s available in silver, space grey and gold. The FaceTime HD webcam sticks with 720p resolution but enhancements are provided by the new hardware. 

The Air is a little more flexible than the old MacBook (or old Air) when it comes to ports, in that it offers an extra USB-C port for a total of two. 

Apple MacBook Air (early 2020, Intel Core i5/i7 processors)

  • Dimensions: 304.1 x 212.4 x 41-156mm, 1.25kg
  • Display: 13.3-inches, 2560 x 1600 (227ppi), 400nits brightness, True Tone
  • Connections: Two USB Type-C ports, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Battery: 12 hours

The base model is well priced and has a dual-core 1.1GHz  Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage (doubled from 2019), while the other off-the-shelf configuration has a quad-core 1.1GHz Intel Core i5 chip, 8GB of RAM and up to 1TB of configurable storage. It’s the first time there’s been a quad-core MacBook Air. All models feature Intel’s latest Iris Plus integrated graphics and can be upgraded to 16GB of RAM.

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Intel Core i5, i7, 2020)

  • Dimensions: 304.1 x 212.4 x 156mm, 1.4kg
  • Display: 13.3-inches, 2560 x 1600 (226ppi), 500nits brightness, True Tone
  • Connections: Two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Battery: 10 hours

Despite being updated in early 2020, 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar doesn’t offer a great deal more than the MacBook Air now, but of course it can be configured with a higher specification. The Pro does also gives you the Touch Bar, of course, as well as support for the P3 Colour Space on the display. 

The 13-inch MacBook Pro boasts quad-core Core i5 processors as standard across the range. By default, these are clocked at 1.4 or 2.0Ghz respectively.

The chips used 8th generation on the bottom two models and 10th generation chips on the top two versions – there are four standard versions of the 13-inch MacBook Pro now. You can also configure up to 10th generation Core i7 at 2.3GHz with maximum Turbo Boost speeds lof 4.1Ghz. The MacBook Pro 13-inch is available in Silver or Space Gray. 

Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019)

  • Dimensions: 358 x 246 x 16.2mm, 2.0kg
  • Display: 16-inches, 3072 x 1920 resolution (226ppi), 500nits brightness, True Tone
  • Connections: Four Thunderbolt 3 ports, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Battery: 11 hours

Our final Macbook is one of the most powerful machines Apple has ever produced, an absolute powerhouse that, in all honesty, is overkill for most people. 

It’s got Apple’s biggest ever laptop battery, its biggest-ever laptop screen with beautiful colour range and crisp detail, an all-new and amazingly satisfying keyboard, and processing power that will crunch through any task.

That said, it’s also massively, hugely expensive, and that chunky battery doesn’t stop the huge display from absolutely eating up its power, struggling in our experience to get near the 11 hours Apple’s claiming. It’s also, obviously, not the most portable laptop given its size. Still, if you want the absolute maximum in power that Apple can offer, it’s a bit of a monster.